There are populations of people around the world who just don’t want to fit in with the general masses around them. Some groups are large enough that they form their own government, establish borders, and get recognized by the rest of the world as sovereign. Others want to claim a form of independence in name only so they can market themselves as outsiders, be their own private club and try to thumb their noses at the country around them. We figured there are a lot of them in Europe and worth visiting and Barcelona would be a great starting point.
We sketched out general list of places we wanted to visit and plotted them on a map, intending to get as far north as Liechtenstein. We had a timetable in mind but we didn’t prebook any hotels and let the trip unfold we went along.
One of the things we discovered during our micronations trip was that driving in Europe is expensive. We drove north from Barcelona the first day, heading towards Andorra, and stopped at a nice little town named Bellver de Cerdanya in Spain for a meal at Sant Roc Pizzeria.
We tried to walk into the local hotel for a room and the cost was exorbitant. Bella suggested we simply sleep in the car. Great idea! We backed the car against the wall in the parking area, tipped the seats back and fell asleep. The farther we drove, the more we realized how expensive it was to drive long distances in Europe and the more committed we were to saving money on lodging.
When all sights were seen, all the roughly 1800 miles were driven, we spent $350 on gas, $130 on tolls, and $35 on parking. And nothing on lodging.
The cities we were able to explore ended up looking like this:
Andorra and Monaco are real independent principalities recognized by all the other nations in the world so they were on the original list of places to visit.
There wasn’t much going on in Andorra when we arrived early in the morning so we napped in the car a bit, recovering from jet lag. Once the rest of the country woke up we drove to Pas de la Casa in the Pyrenees.
After spending the day in the south of France, we slept the night in Nice, in the car of course. The next morning we arrived in Monte Carlo. The wealth there is incredible.
See the grand stands across the bay? Preparations were underway for the upcoming Monte Carlo Grand Prix when we arrived. I felt a bit like James Bond or maybe Tony Stark.
The next target Seborga, which is an honest to goodness micronation. What does that really mean? Well the definition is something like this:
A micronation is a piece of land that claims to be an independent or sovereign nation, but is not recognized by world governments. They are founded for many reasons, some as protests, some to boost tourism, and some just for fun.
– Christian Storm and Skye Gould of Business Insider
Seborga is only about 5 square miles of land in the Italian province of Imperia. In the 1960s a guy named Georgio Carbone established a claim that the city has really been independent of Italy because, way back in 1729 when it was sold to the Savoy dynasty, the sale was never registered. According to him, that left Seborga out of Italy’s formation in the 1800s and 1900s. Kind of like those “unclaimed property” websites promising fortunes waiting for the real owner to show up. In this case, his claim of independence was so compelling to the locals they elected him to be their head of state and he claimed the title Prince. He ruled until he died in 2009 and they elected another Prince.
The city was gorgeous. We wandered around essentially alone before finding a restaurant for lunch.
The other very small country you’ve heard of was the farthest we intended to drive. Lichtenstein is pretty well recognized. Sitting in between Switzerland and Austria, it is only 5.5 miles wide. It’s been featured in movies as well known as the Sound of Music and is even mentioned in Knight’s Tale. We spent the night in a parking lot in Vaduz and found a nice coffee bar inside a hotel for breakfast. We drove by Castle Vaduz, which is the private residence of the Royal Family.
Since we were so close to Austria, we crossed into Feldkirch for a beer.
Our next true micronation on the list was Saugeais. I love the story if it’s inception from Wikipedia, which of course is 100% accurate.
In 1947, the prefect of the département of Doubs came to Montbenoît to attend an official event. The prefect had lunch in the Hôtel de l’Abbaye in Montbenoît, which was owned by Georges Pourchet. As a joke, Pourchet asked the prefect “Do you have a permit allowing you to enter the Republic of Saugeais?” The prefect asked for details on the mysterious republic, which Pourchet made up on the spot. The prefect responded by appointing Pourchet president of the Free Republic of Saugeais.
We arrived without much fanfare, but there was a sign.
It was late and there weren’t any residents around to ask about the inner workings of the Republic so we continued on our way.
This was just a taste of a couple real micronations and a great number of small countries. We really love finding destinations off the beaten path. There are plenty more to target, including the Conch Republic in Key West.
We spent the week in the car, showered but once, and saw ten countries and two micronations. It was a blast! As Bella’s dad would say “a little hardship never hurt anybody”.
Here’s a photo of a rest area where we woke up one morning.
Yes, that car was our motor home for a week.
The final leg of the journey was a layover in Amsterdam on the way home with a story of it’s own.